A gene 'ticket' that allows cancer cells admittance to the brain is reported in a paper published online in Nature. It's hoped the research could help in the development of drugs to stop cancer spread.
The brain has a notoriously strict door policy, and until now little was known about how cancer cells are able to bypass this. Joan Massaguae and colleagues identify three genes in mice that are involved in this process in breast cancer. Two of the genes - COX2 and HBEGF - have already been shown to help breast cancer invade the lungs, suggesting that common biological processes regulate metastasis to these two organs. A third gene, ST6GALNAC5, is found to be specifically involved in brain metastasis. It seems to work by helping the breast cancer cells 'stick' to blood vessels in the brain, which allows them time to slip through into the brain tissue. Without ST6GALNAC5, the cells are turned away at the door.
With further work, the authors hope that ST6GALNAC5 could become a very interesting therapeutic target.
Joan Massague (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, New York, NY, USA)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature press release.
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